The art of choosing wine for your wedding reception

Forget boring business titles that identify you as a director, CEO or, even more cryptic, ‘supervisor’. Jason Robertson has the right idea. His business cards simply read Chief Wine Guy.

Jason is the owner of Oak Room Wines, a Melbourne company that supplies specially curated wine for weddings, along with personalised labels for the bottles, to couples across Australia.

Moving into the industry after 20 years in the corporate world, Jason is, by his own admission, not a ‘wine guru’. But he IS a wine lover – and wine taster – which gives him a unique insight into the hows and whys of planning a beverage menu for a wedding.

It’s something that continues to come into greater play as more and more couples choose to host their big day at a venue which allows BYO.

So, with that in mind, he has shared his top tips for choosing the perfect drop (or two) for your big day.

Tap into your available expertise

In addition to his own expertise, Jason is fortunate enough to be able to draw on a supply chain with 40-50 years of combined experience in the wine industry. It’s a principal that brides and grooms can also follow.

Chances are, someone on your guest list probably rates themself a connoisseur, so tap into their expertise. Not to let them take over, but more to help you work through the available options, looking at factors such as price, origin and drinkability to curate just the right selection.

It’s an especially good idea if you have a lot of older guests coming who know their wine and appreciate a really superb drop. In return, you could slip them a nice bottle of bubbly in appreciation or their help have the MC thank them during the toasts.

Give your guests a mini wine lesson

You’ve heard of food stations, and dessert stations, so why not set up a wine station? It’s kind of like the idea of a bar, where people can come up and order a drink, but takes things a step further to also work as an information service.

You could have tasting notes on each wine (with a glossary of layman’s terms if needed), a description of why you picked each wine – especially if the reasons are personal – and even brochures telling people where they can pick up some of their own bottles down the track.

If you’re feeling particularly indulgent, you could even hire a wine guru to do a proper wine tasting or wine masterclass, maybe while you’re off having your official photos taken.

Don’t match food and wine if you don’t want to

Conventional wisdom suggests you ‘should’ only drink certain wines with certain foods. But according to Jason – who grew up near the Yarra Valley and sources wine from regions including the Barossa, Coonawarra, McLaren Vale and Hunter Valley – there’s no ‘should’ about it.

“There’s a really nice movement at the moment that’s looking at breaking some of the taboos around wine matching,” says Jason.

“It suggests that it should be more about treating the pairing as a personal preference. So if you feel like having a $30 bottle of wine with some chips, it’s OK.

Similarly, for a wedding, if you want to serve a red wine, such as a pinot, with your fish, go right ahead; it doesn’t have to be a riesling or a chardonnay just because white wine might be the more classic choice.”

That said, he does advise taking cues from the menu if applicable. “For example, sometimes chefs will use a traditionally paired wine in a sauce, say in a red wine jus, in which case it makes terrific sense to follow through and serve the same wine with that course.”

Tell the story of you

At some point, there’s a fair chance wine has played a role in your relationship. Perhaps you spent your courtship trawling through boutique wineries.

Maybe your first couple outing was to a wine bar. Or maybe you have regular date nights where one of you has to come home with a label neither of you have tried before.

Whatever the story, look to factor it in your big day by serving a red, white or sparkling with personal meaning. Make sure you mention it in the speeches as well – or on a personalised wine label – as it’s a lovely way to clue guests in on the sentimentality.

Be a little bit traditional

Modern couples often make a thoroughly modern feature of their beverage menu by adding in spirits, cocktails, cider or even schnapps. However, there are some moments when adherence to tradition can add a beautiful touch, and Jason nominates the toasts and speeches as one such moment.

“I think it’s a lovely part of the event when somebody comes out with a tray of bubbles, which signals to people to start getting ready for the speeches,” he says. “It’s just not the same with half a glass of chardonnay and, to be honest, I can’t imagine people wanting to toast with that. I really do think they like this little touch of tradition.”

His suggestions for the perfect tipple for the moment include a pinot chardonnay Brut, a French or rose sparkling, or even an Italian style prosecco, perhaps with a hibiscus flower in the bottom. The added bonus is they can help build the kind of buzz that encourages guests to hit the dance floor.

Consider the time of year

According to Jason, there’s always going to be a reasonably standard formula for the wine required at a wedding – that being red, white and sparkling. But there’s plenty of wiggle room within each category, and the time of year can often influence the choice.

“If it’s summer, something like a moscato or a sav blanc can be a popular choice,” he says. “Whereas in winter, you might look at your shirazes, cabernets or sauvignons – things that are a little bit heavier.” These considerations might also stretch to pairing with the food menu, which is often built around climate and the seasonality of produce.

“But again, it really does come down to personal preference,” says Jason. “A lot of people will drink their favourite wine, say a cab sav, whether it’s the middle of summer or the middle of winter.

For example, I’m working on a summer wedding at the moment with someone’s who a big pinot fan, so he’s fairly biased towards that in terms of his order. But I think the trick is to not buy specifically for your personal taste, but for the majority of guests who will be attending your wedding, as it will incorporate a broad cross-section of wine lovers.”

A final note to remember is to also cater for light drinkers, perhaps with a lower-alcohol wine, such as moscato, which is about 8 per cent.

Mix and match

Creating a BYO wine mix allows couples to move away from the choice of a single white, red and sparkling. “It really does allow you to cater for a broader variety of palettes,” says Jason, who mixes and matches without minimum quantities of each.

“You could do two or three different reds and whites, say a French sparkling and also an Australian sparkling, so all up you have a total of eight wines.” The effect then becomes more about wide appeal.

“For example, you might have someone coming that you know is going to want a pinot grigio, while other guests will want a pinot noir. Others might even like a merlot, as that tends to be a bit softer and a bit smoother.”

Even dessert wines are making a bit of a comeback, things like muscats and tawny ports. So by doing it this way, you can cater for everyone. The main thing to remember is that value for money doesn’t just mean going for the lowest price.

It’s about doing your research to balance what you can afford with the best of what’s available, taking into consideration factors such as who’s paying for the wine and will therefore expect some input, the age of the crowd and their level of discernment.

Remember that wine is not just for dinner

While too much wine at a wedding can make people forget the fun they’ve had, it can also serve as a nice memory or souvenir of the day. One of the best ways to do this is by giving out piccolos or bigger bottles of wine as your bonbonierre, presented in stylish gift boxes.

It’s guaranteed to be one wedding favour that isn’t left behind. Personalised wine labels are also a lovely way to create a beautiful personal connection, both on and after the day. These can be done for the front and/or back of wine bottles and include everything from images to words.

“Some people like a classic, traditional type of design, while others like to match in with their event,” says Jason, who adds that images, fonts and graphics can create a mood that stretches from elegant and retro to backyard and beyond. Inclusions can range from the date of the wedding to a photograph of the couple or even tasting notes on the wine itself.

“It’s really just about having something that matches both the bride and groom and the celebration they’re having,” he says.

As a final piece of advice, Jason – who enjoys helping to demystify wines through consultations and wine tastings – says the beverage menu at a wedding comes down to one key consideration.

“Drink what you want to drink and pick for yourself and your guests,” he advises. “That way, they’ll walk away and note not only that the food was great but that the wine was fantastic too.”

Top tip: One rule of thumb when creating a beverage budget is to assume that each guest will consume one drink each hour. But if you have some heavy drinkers, you might want to up the estimate. After all, there’s nothing worse than a dry bar!

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